By Quentin H. / August 23rd, 2021
The most remarkable thing about Dragon Con is that despite its reach across the downtown Atlanta area for Labor Day weekend every year, it is still clearly a fan-centric convention where each con-goer’s voice actually matters in determining track and panel content, what guests to invite, and more. This year, however, Dragon Con will look different due to the COVID outbreak after being cancelled in-person last year.
I caught up with Dan Carroll, the Media Engagement Director for Dragon Con, to talk about how Dragon Con will be handling the COVID pandemic for this year’s convention, what guests are there to look forward to, and if filk will be making a return.
You can also buy a membership for this year’s Dragon Con here.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Dan Carroll: My name is Dan Carroll, Media Engagement Director for Dragon Con.
OR: Is Dragon Con happening this year? And if so, how can people attend?
DC: Dragon Con is going to be live this year. The best way to attend is to purchase your membership as soon as you can at [the Dragon Con website]. Dragon Con is a five-day event- it goes from Thursday, September 2nd through Labor Day. It covers the whole Labor Day weekend.
We have full weekend passes available. Also, [we have] one-day passes available for Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday. We are not providing one-day passes for Saturday this year, just because we want to maintain a balance in how we manage crowds. Saturday is, historically, our largest event day and it is another way to protect you. Some other things we’ve done is put a cap on attendance, roughly 50-percent of where we have been the past three or four years when we have had live shows.
We also require masks and require a COVID-19 test to be done within 72 hours of picking up a badge. So if you have a one-day pass, and you pick up your badge on Sunday, [the test] has to be done three days before Sunday. Or if you’re coming on Thursday, three days before Thursday.
[Alternatively], you can have a full COVID vaccine. Depending on what vaccine you choose: if you’re a Pfizer/Moderna, it’s two shots [administered] 21 days before the event [or] if you’re a Johnson & Johnson, it is again 21 days before the event. The full details are up at [Dragon Con Update Page].
OR: Let’s talk about that: By the time Dragon Con announced their vaccine policy, we were well within the window making it impossible to get a full Moderna or Pfizer series of vaccines. Why wait so long to institute this policy?
DC: The answer is very clearly that we were able to recognize the needs when we did.
On August 1st, when we announced the mask policy and reduced attendance, and also the fact that the individual conference rooms were going to be two-thirds capacity, the Delta variant had not quite caused the spike we were seeing earlier this week. By then, we realized that the situation was now different. And all along, we’ve always told everyone that we reserve the right to adjust to the reality of the pandemic.
“…[O]ne of the reasons that we’ve having Dragon Con this year, because Dragon Con is awesome. And I just want to repeat that again: Because Dragon Con is awesome. I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t love Dragon Con.
What we want to do is balance that safety with the fun.”
OR: You mentioned a mask policy. Can you tell us more about what kind of masks are or are not acceptable?
DC: Primarily, what we want everyone to know is that our mask requirement is the type of mask approved by the CDC. So it would be anything that the CDC would be comfortable with- cloth masks are allowed. They should cover your nose and your mouth. And please, if you’re wearing a mask, make sure it is always covering your nose.
And there are some circumstances [that] we realize where we had to be a little more clear. One of those does involve those crazy T-Rex costumes that are so popular at fan conventions- especially at Dragon Con. Because of the fact that they have a blower attached to it, we do ask people in that situation to wear a mask that’s CDC approved.
One of the things that we’ve been talking about with people is that a piece of gauze covering your face will not meet that requirement. Early on in the pandemic, we saw celebrities putting on crocheted masks with big holes in it- that would not be acceptable. We are looking for a solid piece of cloth. I myself am wearing N95 masks the entire weekend. I know it’s not going to be comfortable [to wear a mask], but it is going to be what is best for everybody involved.
And of course, the more important situation is that everyone is going to be COVID negative, and that will do a LOT. And that is either with the policy of the shots- making sure you’re vaccinated- or if you’re not vaccinated, to get that COVID test.
And we can’t announce many details, because they are still being confirmed, but we will be providing tests on-site for people who may not have found a way to get them. And there’s going to be more developments- and people have asked about this idea or that idea- and the truth is that we’re under [a] unique situation because in order to provide anything at the convention, whether it’s amazing guests or any other services, we have to make sure that the contracts are in place and signed. There are things coming up where the contracts are being taken care of that will make a lot of people very happy.
OR: Let’s talk about checking in to get your badge. What kind of information do you need us to present to show that we have been tested within 72 hours or that we are fully vaccinated?
DC: The first thing- and this is not new, this goes back 35 years- you will have to show ID to get your badge. We do not anticipate any sales on site. We expect [all to be sold] before the convention due to the cap we have in place, and because of the numbers we are showing now- we’re very confident that we will not be providing any on-site sales. So everything is going to be pre-sold, and you will need your ID to back up who applied for the badge online.
The second thing is you’re going to need to show proof. What we’re looking at, for those people who’ve been vaccinated, is a replica or an original of your vaccine card. I, myself, tend to get a little absent minded. I keep a copy of my vaccine card on my phone and in my day life, I have been responsible for COVID-19 vaccine tracking among my employees. So it isn’t something new to me.
So I keep my vaccine card on my phone- we recommend that you keep it in its own folder, so it is super easy to find when it is your turn to get your badge. And for the people who are picking up their badge, and they have gotten a test recently: the [results are] only the thing we ask, and you can show it electronically via e-mail or on a piece of paper.
There are home tests out there, and I know family members and friends who have used a home test, but in order for us to be able to validate the home test- which is fine for checking you’re okay, you’re not exposed- but to validate it, either you need to: get it from somebody who is going to give you a receipt emailed or on paper, or if you’re one of those people taking the home test, it has got to be administered through a telehealth professional. So you’re taking it yourself, you’re processing it yourself, but they are watching you to validate it.
And it may seem inconvenient, but it is a whole lot more convenient than actually getting COVID-19.
OR: Does Dragon Con store or keep anyone’s medical information that they present during badge check-in?
DC: That’s a good question. We don’t keep anybody’s ID information apart from what they registered with. And fortunately, Dragon Con is pretty geeky, so we have a lot of IT professionals working with our computers. So we understand that [information] is critical. We have no reason to comply with HIPAA, because we are not storing your [medical] information. We’re just validating it and moving on.
OR: Can people still pick up a badge for their child, their friend, or their partner this year?
DC: Same rules as always apply: you can pick up a badge for your significant other, a best friend who is still at work on Friday, and you would need a copy of their ID, their documentation of receiving either a vaccine or a test within 72 hours of coming to Dragon Con, and an authorization letter.
OR: You said that if we are vaccinated, we will need a card. I, myself, only have a printout because I’ve lost my card in a move. Is that kind of documentation acceptable, or do I need to start digging for it?
DC: That’s a great question- I would strongly recommend for everything else in your life, go ahead and find that card. The receipt from Walgreens, unless they’re able to replicate their card for you, would not be sufficient.
I, myself, am planning on getting a test anyway, even though I was vaccinated in early, early March. And I am pretty excited about my booster when it comes up in eight months, and I am going to get that. And we want to make sure everybody’s taken care of, and we’ve been encouraging all of our Dragon Con attendees in all of our Town Hall meetings to get vaccinated all along. We believe the science works and that the science is valid.
OR: With all of these restrictions and the vaccination or test requirements and the attendance cap…Is Dragon Con still ‘Dragon Con’?
DC: Yes, yes. And that’s one of the reasons that we’ve having Dragon Con this year, because Dragon Con is awesome. And I just want to repeat that again: Because Dragon Con is awesome. I wouldn’t be talking to you if I didn’t love Dragon Con.
What we want to do is balance that safety with the fun. And that’s why we’ve put in place Dragon Con Goes Virtual for those people who are not comfortable, for one reason or another, either having a test or getting the vaccine. We have that virtual presentation. If you already have a badge and you want to just go ahead and swap over [to a virtual presentation], just contact the Dragon Con office and they’ll swap your membership for this year.
For those people who are coming, look at our guest list. We went into this year, after last year’s virtual show- I know I was hesitant about talking about guests. [But] I am super excited about saying that we are going to have William Shatner, we’re gonna have Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, and so many of the cast from Battlestar Galatica. For those a little bit older, we’re going to have Wesley Eure and we have Kathy [OR Note: Kathleen Coleman] from Land Of The Lost. For those people who are a little younger, and I love this movie so much- it is one of my favorite superhero movies, we have three of the cast members from Shazam!. We have so many of the cast members from Batwoman, we have so many of the folx from The Boys. Across the board, we have a lot of The Walking Dead guests and a lot of new The Walking Dead that we haven’t had before.
So we’ve got so much going on in terms of guests, that if I just rattled them all off, it would be tedious but it would also just take up all your time.
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